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Eikev

Friday, 3rd August 2018

In this week's Torah portion we find the mitzvah (commandment) of Mezzuza ( a piece of parchment - often contained in a decorative case - inscribed with specified Hebrew verses from the Torah and affixed to the door post). The Talmud relates that Rabbi Yehuda Hanasi once sent a mezzuza as a gift to Artaban, the king of Persia, explaining that the small scroll would protect him from harm.

At first glance, Rabbi Yehuda Hanasi's gesture seems odd. The commandment to affix a mezzuza upon one's doorposts was given only to the Jewish nation. A non-Jewish king, therefore, would not be fulfilling a religious precept by possessing a mezzuza. As such, he would also be ineligible for any reward resulting from the performance of a mitzvah. Why then did Rabbi Yehuda Hanasi promise the gentile king that the mezzuza would guard and protect him? 

A similar question may also be asked about the common practice, dating back to the time of the Mishnah, of inserting a mezzuza scroll into one's walking stick, also done for the sake of the protection it afforded. A walking stick is certainly not included in the commandment of mezzuza. If there is no commandment, there is certainly no reward. How, then, did the mezzuza afford protection?

A distinction must be made between the reward a person receives for performing a mitzvah and the intrinsic attribute of the mitzvah itself. When a person obeys G-d's command by fulfilling a mitzvah, the reward he earns is a separate and distinct entity, additional to the essential nature of the mitzvah. For example, the Torah states that the reward for the mitzvah of mezzuza is long life: "That your days be increased and the days of your children." 

Yet besides the reward promised by the Torah, each mitzvah has its own special attributes and characteristics that have nothing to do with reward, but are integral parts of the mitzvah itself. The mezzuza's attribute is protection. Our Sages explained that when a kosher mezzuza is affixed to the door post, G-d Himself watches over the occupants of the house, even when they are not at home. A mezzuza is written solely for the purpose of protection, and, by its nature, it protects.

With this in mind, it becomes clear that even when no fulfilment of a religious precept is involved, a mezzuza still possesses this attribute of protection, at least to some degree. It was for this reason that Rabbi Yehuda Hanasi sent the mezzuza as a gift to the Persian king and that Jews took mezzuzos with them wherever they went inside their walking sticks.  

From this we learn the crucial importance of having kosher mezzuzos. The Jewish people, likened to "one sheep among seventy wolves," are always in need of special defence. Every additional mezzuza affixed to a Jewish home extends G-d's Divine protection to the entire Jewish nation, for all Jews are ultimately responsible for one another.

 

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